By PETER SEA
FOR many rugby league followers in PNG, 2017 will go down as one that the sport made a huge impact.
It will be remembered long by diehard supporters of the SP PNG Hunters and the PNG Kumuls as one of the most successful year.
The year rolled out with the Hunters making their fourth appearance in the second-tier Queensland Intrust Super Cup competition. PNG first entered the competition in 2014.
In their first three attempts, the Hunters were knocked out in the semi-final stages and the coveted cup had become elusive.
That all changed when the Hunters for the first time ended the competition in top spot thus earning a week off during the preliminary finals.
In the major semi-final playoff Hunters saw off Redcliffe Dolphins with a 6-4 win while Sunshine Coast Falcons beat East Tigers 26-22 in the minor semi.
Hunters were given another week off while Falcons steamrolled Dolphins 40-14 to set the stage for a Hunters-Falcons grand final at Suncorp Stadium.
It was a heroic match played by the Hunters. The scores were locked at 8-6 at halftime and would remain so until two minutes from fulltime.
In the meantime, the Hunters’ defence was put to the test as the Falcons used their big men to tried and break PNG’s resilient brickwall.
The Falcons sent in raid after raid to try and cross the line but Michael Marum’s boys held their ground and would not barge.
The Hunters’ tireless defensive effort final paid dividend when hero of the grand final Willie “The Wapenamanda Mac Truck” latched onto the ball for a touchdown after a cross field kick by skipper Ase Boas.
PNG erupted with a roar and Hunters had finally won their first Intrust Super Cup trophy.
Then the 2017 Rugby League World Cup arrived and Australia, New Zealand and PNG were earmarked to host the matches.
The Kumuls were given three home matches against Wales, Ireland and the United States of America.
Marum again was appointed coach for the World Cup squad and the team went into training.
The first World Cup match was against a depleted Wales team. The Kumuls went into destruction mode from the first whistle left their opponents for dead at National Football Stadium.
The Kumuls won the match 56-6. Wales’ only try coming from a lapse in defence on the final whistle when winger Gary Lo fumbled a high bomb and a Welshman scooped up the loose ball and scored.
The second game was against Ireland. The Irish were all set to upset the Kumuls at home but Marum’s boys had other ideas and sent the Wolfhounds packing.
In their final home game against USA, the Kumuls were in their destructive mode again and gave the visitors no space to play their game.
The Kumuls’ big win setting the stage for a quarterfinal showdown with England in Melbourne.
The Kumuls lost the plot against the hard running English forwards and so ending their World Cup campaign with a loss to the Lions.
All in all it was a big win for PNG rugby league.